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A mixed group of individuals - lesbian, gays, and heterosexuals who all frequent a local bar struggle to accept each others lifestyles. However when the two gays are attacked and fight back and ultimately rape one of their attackers, the group becomes strongly divided on their actions. Jennifer Tilly is the mother hen of the group who tries to hold everyone together. The lesbian lovers break up when one admits to having an affair with a man. Written by
John Sacksteder <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This is a fairly decent film with a really lame title. The film's opening is even misleading, starting with some pretty raucous gay sex--so from the outset it appears as if the film is going to be yet another dull explorating of the trials of gay life in the 90s. And there have been a lot of those films lately. Fortunately, director PJ Castellaneta is more wily than he lets on, and allows the film to evolve into something more intricate and at times very touching.
The film manages to balance a cast of widely different characters and maintain a sense of order without devolving into a who's who of politically correct character inclusion. You have the straights, the gays, the lesbians, the bisexuals, blacks, whites, latinos, and the film even manages to present Christianity in positive tones, albeit with a few well placed jabs now and then. The scripts evenly doles out its emotional weight, never straying into farce when it would be the easy thing to do, nor does it list grind into maudlin sentimentality when it would also be the easy thing to do.
The story revolves around the lives of a coterie of friends of various sexual orientations and temperament. "Relax" follows their development with humor and insight, sometimes relying too much on an intrusive voiceover by the main character, Vince. The emotional centerpiece of the film is a gay bashing where the victim suddenly gains the upper hand. This moment threatens to overwhelm the final half of the film because it raises a crucial question that the "Relax" never adequately, answers (nor did I feel it should have answered), which is, In a world where one is oppressed by violence, to what degree is violence--retributive, eye-for-an-eye violence--an appropriate response?
This is just one of a number of issues that the film raises and leaves for your consideration. Perhaps it is just as well, since it seems like to dwell overly long on these issues would overwhelm the rest of the film; indeed, Castellaneta felt it necessary to remove Vince from the main thread of the film, whereas he was hitherto the central character. In his place, Jennifer Tilly takes over, and she takes the film to its conclusion. Tilly usually goes for the quirks or the sex appeal of her film characters, but this time around she plays a woman whose quirks don't overwhelm her personality, merely compliment. She makes the film.
It was also nice to see a gay film that didn't trot out the familiar, banal diatribes against Christianity. Granted, the gay Christian couple does come across as a little hokey at times, they are never portrayed as weird, evil, judgmental, or exclusionary. Indeed, they are a fitting completion to the the microcosmos that revolves around Tilly's maternal presence.
I came to the film with few expectations and came away rather pleased. There are still a few drawn out moments that could have been trimmed, but the overall package of this film was a surprising delight.
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